Chapter 6: Fiery Help
Enzan felt like stumbling out of the school. The day had been long and boring, yet he felt drained, like someone had sucked out all of his energy. He had not been called on again, and for the rest of school day, he was pretty much ignored by both the students and the teacher. At least that was one thing to be grateful for.
“How can people stand this?” he groaned softly. He was walking down the halls, making his way slowly to the exit.
“Stand what, Enzan-sama?” Rockman asked. Since their conversation in the cafeteria, the blue navi had grown friendlier. He had either realized he didn’t need to fear Enzan or had realized his fear of Enzan was the very thing that annoyed the boy.
“Going to school,” Enzan replied. “It’s so boring. I learned everything we covered in class years ago.”
“Not everyone is a genius,” Rockman pointed out. “Most people have to go to school.”
“There’s got to be an easier way,” Enzan argued back. “That’s just…” Enzan drifted off. They were nearly at the exit, and most of the students had disappeared.
Rockman frowned. “Enzan-sama?”
“Be quiet for a second,” Enzan replied softly. He crept up to the entrance and leaned against a pillar next to the door, out of sight from the other side of the clear sliding doors. Soon the voices he had heard got louder.
“I really can’t stand that jerk!” Meiru snapped as the door opened. She stepped through and stopped just within Enzan’s eyesight, turning to face someone.
“I know what you mean,” Dekao said loudly, his voice echoing down the hall. “First he pulls all these stunts, then he pretends he’s some kind of genius just because he answered a question right.”
“That’s the weird thing,” a voice Enzan didn’t recognize said. “He seems so determined to flunk everything, yet why would he get something like that right? It doesn’t make sense.”
Both Dekao and a boy Enzan thought looked familiar—Hikawa Tohru, he realized—also stepped into his view; he tried to press himself against the pillar more. If any of them looked in his direction, they would see him right away. Someone else, a young girl with blond braids and wearing a red dress, joined them.
“Maybe he’s up to something,” Yaito suggested, pulling one of her braids over her shoulder. “After all, being forced into the classroom by Mariko-sensei was humiliating. Maybe he’s seeking some kind of revenge.”
“Yeah, but how?” Dekao asked.
“That’s a good question, guts,” said a voice from his PET, which was hanging by a cord around his neck.
Dekao’s navi Gutsman, Enzan thought. No other navi says guts.
“I think he should just leave Akihara Elementary,” Meiru said firmly. “I mean, it’s obvious that he doesn’t want to be here, and all he’s doing is giving the school a bad name.”
“If that’s how you feel, maybe I will,” Enzan said coldly, stepping away from the pillar. The small group gasped and backed away from him as if he was some kind of monster. Yaito bit her lip and grabbed one of her braids, hiding slightly behind Dekao.
Her fear made Enzan angry. Extremely angry. He walked passed the group without sparing them a glance and stomped down the steps.
“Enzan-sama? Are you okay?” Rockman asked worriedly.
“No,” Enzan said through clenched teeth. “Your operator is a jerk, Rockman. The biggest jerk to ever cross the face of the planet.”
Rockman was silent.
“How could anyone do that?” Enzan spat, still continuing to rant. “Doesn’t he understand what it feels like? How could he be so inconsiderate?”
“You’re talking about Yaito, aren’t you?” Rockman asked quietly.
“Yes!” Enzan snapped. “Doesn’t your operator have any feelings at all?”
Rockman suddenly remembered Enzan saying earlier that he didn’t have a mother. He had dismissed it at the time, because he had thought Enzan wasn’t thinking straight. But now that he knew Enzan wasn’t his operator, the words had a whole new meaning.
“It’s hard not having your father, either,” Rockman pointed out. “And you didn’t know she didn’t have a mother.”
“But I didn’t care once I found out, did I?” Enzan asked bitterly.
“Not that I could tell,” Rockman said in a small voice.
Enzan sighed. He pulled out the blue PET from its carrying case, so different from his red one, and looked at Rockman. “I’m getting upset for no reason,” he said softly. “This is just really hard for me, and I’m taking it out on you. I have no right to do that. I’m sorry.”
“It—I mean—you don’t have to apologize, Enzan-sama,” Rockman stammered. “I understand you’re still getting used to things.”
“Still, I shouldn’t be cruel to you. There’s no excuse for that,” Enzan replied.
Rockman rubbed the back of his head, looking sheepish. “Anou…” he said. “Um… how did you like Hikari-san’s obentou?”
Enzan was surprised at the question until he realized Rockman was trying to change the subject to something lighter. “The packed lunch?” Enzan repeated. He thought about it for a second. “It was probably one of the best homemade meals I’ve had.”
“Really?” Rockman asked, smiling slightly. “Hikari-san is a great cook.”
He had said the words with pride, and Enzan wondered if the hatred was exclusively on Haruka’s side. Rockman had never struck him as the type to hate someone just because the person hated him. Instead, he seemed to be the kind who would try to make friends with all he could. However, that was the blue navi Enzan knew. He knew this Rockman was different in some ways, and that could include hating people.
“Well, she’s better at it than me,” Enzan said ruefully. “I can never get my rice balls in the right shape, and I always burn the miso soup.”
“I didn’t know you could burn miso soup,” Rockman exclaimed. Enzan could see the navi was trying not to laugh.
“Somehow I manage it,” Enzan admitted. For some reason, seeing Rockman happiness cheered him up. He wanted to hear the navi laugh and see him smile. Maybe it was because the Rockman he knew was naturally cheerful, and this Rockman’s careful obedience was eerie. Maybe it was because Rockman’s recent behavior uncomfortably reminded him of a poor imitation of Blues. Maybe it was because Enzan needed all the help he could get.
“Rockman,” he said, slowing down. “Let’s not go home just yet. I want to look around town a bit.”
“As you wish, Enzan-sama,” Rockman said cheerfully. “Akihara isn’t as large as Densan City, but there’s still some places of interest.”
Enzan turned a corner, abruptly veering off the way he had been going. As he walked, he wondered more about Rockman’s behavior. At first, the perfect yet terrified obedience of Rockman had bothered Enzan. He preferred obedience from navis, but the fear was something he wasn’t used to, and it disturbed him. He didn’t like seeing Rockman—or any navi—cower in fear of him just because he had the advantage, especially if he was the operator.
Then Rockman had switched to cautiously humoring his operator when he had thought Enzan wasn’t right in the head. The fear was still there, but it wasn’t as strong as before, allowing Rockman to be bolder than he normally would be. Still, he had continued to believe Enzan was his operator and had seemed to live in fear of the moment when the boy would “regain” his memories. Therefore, his behavior constantly switched between something akin to cockiness and paralyzed fear.
Now Rockman had realized that Enzan wasn’t his original operator and he had relaxed, although his old habits died hard. It was odd, but Rockman didn’t seem to mind that Enzan wasn’t his operator. Even though he still referred to Enzan as his operator, using the word “you” when talking about his operator’s past or relations, he seemed almost happy that his operator was gone.
Then again, with everything he’s been telling me, why would anyone be sorry if that jerk was gone? Enzan thought.
“Rockman—” Enzan hesitated. He wasn’t sure he wanted to ask this question, but it had been bothering him for some time now. “Rockman, how did your operator treat you?”
Rockman’s expression seemed to freeze. “What do you mean, Enzan-sama?” he asked nervously.
“I want to know how he treated you,” Enzan repeated. They were now traveling down the business section of town, and many colorful signs and advertisements caught Enzan’s eye. He tried to ignore them, concentrating on the conversation.
“He—he—” Rockman stammered. “You are my operator, Enzan-sama. Isn’t that enough?”
Rockman had fallen back on his old argument, one he had already admitted couldn’t be true. Enzan raised an eyebrow, but decided to let the subject drop. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know anymore horrible things “he” had done.
“Rockman, what is—” Enzan froze, cutting himself off. He had stopped in mid-step and was staring at a poster on the side of a building.
“Enzan-sama, what’s wrong?” Rockman asked.
“That sign…” Enzan trailed off. He walked forward in a jerky motion, his hand reaching out to touch the poster.
Rockman strained to see what Enzan was looking at, but the PET was hanging by Enzan’s limp arm and the angle blocked his view. “I do not see what you mean,” he said.
Enzan jerked his hand up so Rockman could see. He stopped short of touching the sign and had let his hand drop to his side. He was staring at the poster, but his eyes were distant, seeing something else.
He looked to Rockman like he was in a state of shock. Suddenly fearful of this new change, Rockman shifted his focus to the sign. “The N1 Grand Prix,” Rockman said thoughtfully, skimming the information on the poster. “Enzan-sama, what’s wrong? You don’t… want to enter, do you?”
“This is wrong…” Enzan whispered. “Rockman, tell me the date. The exact date.”
Enzan’s tone had a new edge to it, and Rockman cringed out of habit. He told Enzan the date, year, and time, rattling it off fearfully. “Is something wrong?” he asked, his voice quivering.
“Two months…” Enzan whispered. “Nearly two months…”
“Enzan-sama, please,” Rockman begged, his voice still shaking. “I want to help you, but I can’t if you don’t tell me what is wrong.”
Enzan was silent for a long moment, trying to calm down. Think, idiot, he told himself mentally. Blind panic will get you nowhere. You have to think in order to accomplish anything! He concentrated on slowing his breathing, and after what had seemed like hours, he managed to regain his normal composure.
“I’m okay, Rockman,” Enzan assured the navi.
“Please tell me what’s wrong,” Rockman begged. Enzan’s sudden mood swings, so different from his regular cold self, were really beginning to scare him. Sure, he preferred a friendly operator to an angry operator, but Enzan was becoming unpredictable.
Enzan took a step back and looked at the building more closely. Higureya… why does that sound so familiar? Enzan cursed softly, his memory failing him again. He sighed. “I will explain everything, Rockman, but first I have to answer some of my own questions.”
He entered the shop and looked around. It was not very large, with shelves and walls lined with battle chips, PET models, and other accessories, both for business and the fun that went with owning a navi.
“It’s a chip shop,” Rockman observed.
Enzan raised an eyebrow. “Do you always state the obvious?”
“Sorry, Enzan-sama,” Rockman whispered.
Enzan blinked, surprised. “It was just a question, you don’t—”
“May I help you?”
Enzan looked up to see a man staring at him from behind the desk. That struck him as odd, because the shop had been empty a moment before and Enzan hadn’t seen the man enter. The man’s brown hair was extremely messy and stuck out in all directions. He wore square-shaped glasses, and Enzan couldn’t see his eyes.
I know him, a voice in the back of his mind said. He was one of the announcers in the N1 Grand Prix.
“That sign outside,” Enzan began. He marveled briefly at the calmness in his voice after his moment of panic outside the store.
“The N1 Grand Prix!” the man cut him off, his voice filled with excitement. “Of course you want to ask about that! It’s coming up, you know, and all those who are interested should enter.”
“I’m interested,” Enzan said firmly. Rockman emitted a small gasp from the PET, but when Enzan glanced at the device, the navi was not visible.
“Great!” the man enthused. “The more, the better! Come over here so I can sign you up right now!”
Enzan approached the desk as the brown-haired man shifted through some papers. There was something else about the man, he remembered. He was a chip otaku, a battle chip fanatic who coveted all rare chips. A bad trait to have when running a chip shop.
“Here it is!” the man exclaimed, pulling out a piece of paper. He set it down before Enzan and pointed at a blank space. “So, I bet you’re an avid netbattler, eh? Most kids your age are. I remember when I was that young…”
Enzan tuned the man out as he wrote his name. He had to cross out the beginning characters of Ijuuin when he remembered his current predicament, and wrote Hikari Enzan instead. It felt odd, like he had resided himself to being Hikari Enzan for the rest of his life, and he angrily dismissed the feeling.
“Fantastic!” the man cried when he saw Enzan finish. “Now all I have to do is write my name besides yours as a sponsor—”
“Sponsor?” Enzan repeated.
“Yeah, it’s more of a benefit thing than anything else. If you sign up through a chip shop like one owned by the great Higure Yamitaro—me—you have access to discounts, that sort of thing.” Higure wrote his name quickly and paused to read the paper. He frowned suddenly and gave Enzan an odd look.
“Anything wrong?” Enzan asked, his voice cold. Higure was looking at him in almost the same way his classmates had looked at him.
“Hikari Enzan, is it?” Higure asked.
Enzan nodded tensely, clenching his fist. He knew what would come next, and he was dreading it.
“Hikari… I know that name…” Higure trailed off, thinking. “That’s the name of that idiot who nearly blew up the Science Labs!”
“Don’t you dare insult Papa!” Rockman roared from the PET in Enzan’s hand. Enzan glanced down to see Rockman looking madder than he had ever thought was possible for the blue navi. His green eyes were livid with rage and he was clenching his fists tightly. “Don’t ever say that!” Rockman yelled again.
Higure was taken aback. “I—”
“Take it back!” Rockman shouted. “Papa is not an idiot!”
“Rockman!” Enzan barked. “That’s enough!”
Rockman fell silent; Higure still looked shocked at the turn of events. Without another word, Enzan turned and left the store. His face felt hot and he gripped the PET with a shaking white hand. He continued down the road, going back the way he had come. His desire to explore the town had died.
“Enzan-sama, I’m so sorry,” Rockman whispered from the PET, his shoulders slumped.
Enzan glared at the PET and the navi inside of it. “If you had let me handle it, we would have gotten out without causing a scene!”
Rockman nodded. “I know, Enzan-sama. I’ve disappointed you again. I’m so sorry! I’ll—I’ll be punished f-for it.”
“What?” Enzan asked, frowning. “I didn’t—”
The PET beeped, and several windows popped up. Rockman reached out and hesitantly touched one. Instantly the screen started glowing red.
“Nan da—!” Enzan cried. “What the—”
Rockman screamed. What looked like red electricity danced around his body, and he clutched his chest as if it pained him. The whole scene was obscured by the bright red tinge of the screen.
“Stop it; turn it off!” Enzan yelled, horrified. “ROCKMAN!”
… … …
Saloma ran through the door, panting. A costumer had held her up at her flower shop, and she thought she was going to be late. She paused in the shadow-filled room to catch her breath.
“I see you’re here.”
“Commander Beef!” Saloma cried. “I’m sorry I’m late.”
Commander Beef stepped out of the shadows, wearing his normal fish-shaped helmet and cape. He gestured for Saloma to have a seat. She sat in one of the chairs at the large conference table, noting sadly the empty seat that was usually Miyuki’s spot.
“That’s all right,” Beef said, moving to his own chair. “However, we must get down to business.”
“Right,” Saloma said, nodding.
Commander Beef took a breath. “As you know, the mission has hit critical. Our undercover agent has been discovered, and more people were abducted. The Science Labs took another heavy blow from a failed invasion attempt.”
“Are they really invasion attempts?” Saloma asked. “I mean, they seem more intended to wear the defenses down.”
“Exactly,” Beef said, nodding. “The attack strategy of our opponents resembles a castle under siege. They know they have us cornered.”
“What can we do?” Saloma asked.
“First off, we need to gather more supporters,” Beef replied. “We need more help, and it’s rapidly being stolen away by the abductors.”
“What about infiltration?” Saloma asked. “We know where the base of operations is. The way they have it set up, there’s nothing we could do, but if I—”
“No,” Beef cut her off firmly. “We need you here. They discovered Miyuki easily; you’ll be another easy target.”
“But then what can we do?” Saloma cried.
“I have another plan,” Beef said carefully. “We will have an undercover agent, but it won’t be you. It seems that sabotage within the project may be our only hope—”
“That’s too dangerous!” Saloma cried. “What if they get stuck there? What if the orga—”
“I realize there’s a lot of risks,” Beef cut in smoothly. “But the point is we have no choice now. Miyuki has already been integrated into the project; her help is lost to us. However, by sabotage from within, we may be able to stop them from reaching their goal.”
“But who would do it?” Saloma asked. “We need you here, and anyone else… I mean, the risks alone—”
“Apparently, your boss has found someone willing to take those risks.”
Saloma bolted from her chair and whirled to face the newcomer. He stepped out of the shadowy doorway, the dim light catching on his long red hair and red goatee. He smiled wickedly at Saloma.
“You!” Saloma gasped.
“Sounds like fun,” Hino Kenichi said cheerfully. “When do Fireman and I start?”
Author’s notes: Most, if not all, are familiar with the Japanese word otaku, meaning excessive fan (among other things). In Japanese, many names are written in kanji, or characters taken from Chinese. Kanji was what Enzan was using to write his name. For Hino Ken, much like Mariko-sensei, it just seems unnatural to refer to him as just “Hino” or “Ken” because everyone in the show calls him “Hino Ken.” Therefore, I’ll just call him Hino Ken in further chapters, because that is his name.